Greetings from Aleppo, Syria. January 2015.
Aleppo has been without water supplies for a week now, rebels and government accusing each other for being responsible….
Meanwhile, Syrian artist Wissam al Jazairly has released this on his Facebook page…
Yesterday, for the first time in my life I saw Syrians as refugees in a camp. During my years in Syria, I have met many Syrians from different cities, social and religious backgrounds, classes. But even the poorest ones that I used to visit in Damascus` “slums” lived in houses, even if small, even if surrounded by garbage, unfinished buildings, environmental degradation. They had their little private space, always made beautiful, always made warm by them.
It was a shock for me to see Syrians living in camps like this one in the picture, in Lebanon. The irony is that there are people in that camp who come from Yarmouk, which they also call “camp” but it`s not really a camp as we image it. It`s a lively area of Damascus, it`s a neighborhood plenty of shops, markets, mostly inhabited by Palestinian Syrians. Many of them had to leave Yarmouk when it was bombed by the regime. Apparently, they sent a MIG airplane inside which destroyed buildings and killed many people. Many of those I met yesterday have lost friends or relatives during the bombing, so they have decided to leave immediately. Same stories from other families coming from different Syrian cities, such as Aleppo or Homs.
Now they live in these tents, sometimes ten people in one tent. A shared kitchen and bathrooms are outside. They do everything in these small spaces. And, I dont know how, but at some point they made coffee. All of a sudden, I smelled the beautiful smell of Turkish coffee that I used to drink every day in Syria. There were little cups and spoons, and sweets, too. The family smiled at me, offered coffee, said: “Thank God, we are alive. Eventually we will go back to our country, Syria”.
This is only just another example of the dignity of the Syrian people. I am humbled by people whose first thought is to offer you coffee and welcome you warmly even if they are obliged to live in such a small space, all together. I am humbled by their smiles and by the way they thank God to have preserved their lives, even if they have to live as refugees now.
We have failed the Syrian civil society. We fail them each time we focus our attention only on geo-strategical issues, or when we are obsessed about fears of seeing Islamists ruling a post-Assad Syria. We fail them each time we build scenarios for the future of this country instead of thinking about the present, about what is needed now by this society which is suffering so much.
Domani alle 14. 30 alla Casa del Pane a Porta Venezia a Milano inauguriamo “Creative Syria”, una piccola finestra sulla creativita` siriana che si ispira alle precedenti esperienze fatte con Culture in Defiance. Continuing traditions of satire, art, and the struggle for freedom in Syria promossa l`anno scorso dalla Prince Claus Fund di Amsterdam e che ho curato insieme a Malu Halasa, Aram Tahhan, Leen Zyiad , e Syria`s art of resistance, sempre curata da noi ed esposta fino al 12 maggio 2013 al Centre for Culture and Development di Copenhagen.
Creative Syria nasce dall’idea di raccontare la società civile siriana e il suo sforzo di resistenza creativa, che oggi viene oscurato, nel racconto dei mass media, da immagini di violenza e distruzione. Fin dal 15 Marzo 2011, inizio delle prime manifestazioni anti-governative in Siria, un’incredibile esplosione di creatività ha riempito le piazze virtuali di Internet e si è riversata nelle strade del paese, accompagnando le proteste in nome di libertà e dignità. Non solo giovani artisti, ma soprattutto semplici cittadini e utenti anonimi hanno voluto esprimere la loro idea di resistenza creativa alternativa alla violenza che riempiva le strade e le piazze siriane.
La mostra cerca di documentare questa creatività presentando un mix di lavori di artisti siriani noti ed emergenti, e opere di autori anonimi, user-generated e diffuse viralmente su Internet.
Il programma della mostra e degli eventi live e` disponibile qui.
Creative Syria e` stata realizzata grazie al sostegno di tutto il meraviglioso team del Festival del Cinema africano, d`Asia e d`America Latina, con cui abbiamo gia` collaborato in precedenti edizioni e che, con grande entusiamo e passione, ha trovato il modo di portare questo pezzetto di Siria creativa in Italia.
The controversy over Al Jazeera`s coverage of the Syrian uprising has been ongoing for quite a while. Actually, I remember Al Jazeera`s coverage to have been quite controversial since the very first days of the uprising, as it was pretty much non-existent. At the time, pro-revolution activists accused the Qatari based-channel to underestimate the protests that started on March 15th 2011 in the country and to have given them almost zero airtime. The channel was accused to serve the diplomatic interests of Qatar, which at the time was pretty close to Bashar al-Asad and his family.
But soon the situation changed and Al Jazeera started to cover Syria extensively. I remember very well those Fridays during which I would sit with friends in Damascus to watch the Al Jazeera-exclusive live coverage of the demonstrations from places such as Daraa, Homs, or from the suburbs of the capital. Sometimes they would split the TV screen into four, in order to give space and relevance to each city that was protesting.
This was when the majority of the Syrian activists were still in love with Al Jazeera, and when pro-regimes were actively engaged in a campaign aimed at defaming the channel for its allegedly unbalanced and unprofessional coverage of the crisis in Syria. This campaign even took some “creative” aspects as in these posters designed by pro-regime activists and distributed on Facebook.
(source: anonymous pro-regime activists on Facebook)
After these episodes, which were mostly concentrated in the first six months of the uprising, many things have happened. Criticism is now coming not only from pro-regime activists, but also from some of Al Jazeera`s employees, such as the head of Beirut office Ghassan Ben Jeddo, who resigned in protest of an alleged lack of professionalism of the channel in reporting the Syria crisis; or Ali Hashem, a journalist from Beirut.
Internal criticism coming from the employees of the channel has matched with an increasing criticism coming from Arab analysts, such as Sultan al Qassemi, who in this article accused Al Jazeera to have failed to portray the Syrian uprising in a professional, balanced way. Many Syrian activists, too, have lamented the alleged sectarian angle of Al Jazeera`s coverage of Syria, which would give prominence and relevance to the Sunni-led component of the uprising, ignoring the contributions given by Syrian minorities (such as Christians, Ismailis and Alawis) to organizing protests and anti-regime civil disobedience actions.
Despite all the criticism and many mistakes made by Al Jazeera (as much as by other channels, I have to say) in terms, for example, of not always verifying information and videos coming from social media before the actual broadcast, I have t to admit that I was pretty interested by the way they covered the “dhikra” of the second year anniversary of the Syrian uprising, few days ago. It was quite comprehensive, touching various angles, from the military one to the humanitarian, and covering different part of Syria in a simultaneous way.
I was particularly touched by the coverage of Aleppo done by Ghada Oweis, who reported from inside the city, focusing on how life goes on, despite all the difficulties, in areas that are under the control of the Free Syrian Army. Al Jazeera has put a different correspondent in each different areas of Aleppo, and sometimes they do a live broadcast going from one neighbourhood to the other, giving a pretty incredible feeling of simultaneity, hence a feeling of life.
Ghada Oweis, according to this post distributed virally on Facebook, is “wanted” by an Aleppian businessman who is ready to pay 50.000 USD dollars to have the journalist (and “terrorist” as it is written in the post) remitted to the Syrian authorities, “dead or alive”.
I dont know this gentleman and have not enough connections to verify if this post is true or is fabricated by other parties in order to suggest that pro-regime activists are ready to kill journalists. I don`t know.
There are so many things we don`t know. I watched another news story done by Ghada in Aleppo few days ago, concerning an historical building being reconverted in a school for children after being bombed by the regime. There was a teacher being interviewed who told the story of the building, of the kids, of the attempts to have life back in that building despite all odds. It was a touching story but I felt something strange when the guy mentioned the fact that the building was bombed “an year and half ago”. At the time, in fact, bombing of Aleppo had not started yet. But, I thought, the guy might have been just a bit emotional and made a mistake (although the journalist should have corrected him). When I switched Twitter on, however, I found something in Edward Dark`s timeline which was pretty incredible. Edward is a nickname for a well-know activist from Aleppo who stood against the regime since the beginning of the revolution, but eventually turned against the revolution itself when it reached an armed phase, and notably when the FSA gained ground in his own city, Aleppo.
So what was in Edward`s timeline? A message from a Facebook account, allegedly that of lawyer Alaa al Sayed who, according to Edward, is a famous pro-civil society activist (and, I gather, not a regime goon). He said:
الاعلامية غادة عويس على الجزيرة غطت منذ قليل بتقرير صحفي بناء تاريخي حلبي تعرض للقصف :
للتوثيق و التاريخ :
البناء هو للكنيسة اليسوعية التي بنيت عام 1887 م ثم
تم تأجيرها لمديرية التربية في بداية الخمسينات و صارت مدرسة،
بعدما انتقلت الكنيسة الى ساحة الكرنك ثم الى العزيزية .
تم استخدامها كروضة باسم روضة ازهار تشرين حتى اغلاقها منذ ما يزيد على السنتين
و تم تحويلها بعد ترميمها الى متحف وضعت فيه الوسائل التعليمية الاثرية التي كانت مستخدمة في مدرسة المأمون منذ مائة عام والتي وجدت في أقبية المأمون عند ترميمها .
ملاحظات على التقرير :
لم تكن الروضة مفتوحة منذ عام و نصف و اغلقت بسبب القصف، فلم يكن هناك قصف بحلب منذ عام و نصف.
و الروضة مغلقة قبل ذلك بكثير .
و الشاب الذي زعم انه معلم في هذه الروضة و توقف طلابه عن تلقي العلم غبر صادق .
لم تكن هذه الكنيسة يوما مدرسة الشمبانيا و هي معهد الاخوة الفرير في منطقة المحافظة، و صورة التلاميذ و الاساتذة المكتوب عليها مدرسة الشمبانيا التي استندت اليها الاعلامية عبارة عن صورة تاريخية وضعت في المتحف .
و الرجل من اهل الحي الذي قابلته و قال ذلك لا يمكن ان يكون من اهل الحي يوما .
الرجل الذي قال انه من اهل الحي و اولاده كانوا طلابا في روضة المدرسة و انقطعوا عن الدوام بسبب الاحوال الحالية ، غير صادق فلا هو من اهل الحي و لا اولاده كانوا في الروضة المغلقة من سنوات .
غادة العويس : في حلب تحديدا يطلب منك مزيدا من المهنية و التدقيق …ديري بالك معنا ما في لعب …
I won`t translate the message, but just the most important part of it, which is that, according to this gentleman, Ghada has been inaccurate in her story about the old building. First, because as I had also noticed, there was no bombing in Aleppo “half an year ago”. “The building was closed much longer before”. Second, because the guy who pretended in the news items to be a teacher in that school would be lying. Third, because the place itself was not what the report pretends it to be, but an historical Jesuit church which then became an institute run by the “Freres” , etc etc etc. Fourth, because the picture featuring the school pupils which the report shows is, according to Mr Al Sayed, an historical picture coming from the museum.
I could continue but I will stop. What does this lesson teach us? Not to trust Al Jazeera? Not to trust Twitter and Facebook? not to trust images?
I don`t know Aleppo enough to establish the truth on that building, or church, or whatever it is. I don`t know either Ghada Oweis or Alaa al Sayed to have enough elements to decide about who is right and who is wrong. This is yet another example of the complexity we are running through, every day, when it comes to Syria coverage. But we should not embrace nihilism, as many are doing: “since everything can be fabricated by those folks, by both sides, then everything will be fabricated so I wont believe to anything that comes out from Syria”.
At the end of the day, this is the game the regime wants to play. And this is why at the beginning of the revolution, and for a very long time, it was so careful not to allow professional journalists in the country, which has left the entire Syria coverage in the hands of activists.
What we should do is to continue asking questions, to ourselves and to the others, every time we watch a news item -as much as when we read Facebook posts or a tweet-, in order to understand where the truth lies. It is a time-consuming operation, I know. I have myself not enough time to do it -as journalism is not my daily job, and this blog posts took at least three days before being written, as I had promised Ryan Smith on Twitter –.
But we should aim at doing it, always. Asking questions is an healthy exercise.
Nihilism is not.